I am not known as a fan of MPVs. Many offer in real terms no more space than would a good sized family estate car.
By Hugh Maguire
Yet here we are in 2011 and the appeal of the MPV is as strong as ever with many manufacturers preparing to launch even more models onto the market.
Ford has been involved in this market for many years now with the well known Galaxy and S-Max. More recently they launched the lovely new C-Max and Grand C-Max.
Ford claim the S-Max is targeted at the motorist who wants the "style and fun of a driver's car while retaining the practicalities of a 5 or 7 seater MPV. In short dads and mums who need a family vehicle but still want something that looks and drives well.
There are plenty of models across three equipment levels, with all models featuring the innovative Ford Flat System which enables the 2nd and 3rd row seats to be folded flat to the floor without the need for removal.
My test car was the top specification S-MAX 2.0 TDCi Titanium. The model range kicks off with the LX followed by Zetec and then Titanium.
I must confess it looks really great. Its sleek lines and sweeping roofline give the car a really dynamic style. In fact it really does not look like an MPV at all. The flared wheel arches and low-slung stance give it a distinctly sporting appearance.
Behind The Wheel
More pleasant surprises! The cabin is bright and roomy. The dashboard layout once again would look more at home in a sports saloon than a family MPV. The layout is perfect with every switch and button perfectly placed for ease of use.
I particularly like the aluminium finish to the centre console which is again picked up on the steering wheel and door trim, it all adds to the sporting feel of the vehicle.
The driving position is perfect and the seats are one of the most supportive and comfortable I have experienced of late.
All models get air conditioning, 6-speaker remote CD, heated front windscreen, power windows and mirrors, remote locking and immobiliser, ABS, Ford's Intelligent Protection System (IPS) which incorporates twin airbags, 1st and 2nd row side airbags and a knee airbag is also included.
The Titanium adds a host of other goodies including 17-inch alloys, a higher grade CD which is MP3 compatible with an aux port for your iPOD, auto wipers and lights, park sensors, dual zone climate control, 2-way power drivers seat and an inclination sensor.
The 2.0 140bhpTDCI Duratorq diesel is most impressive. In the Titanium model on test this fine engine was mated to the new 6-speed "Powershift" auto transmission.
The combination is excellent providing lively acceleration combined with low emissions and good economy. It falls into VRT band D with emissions of just 159g/km.
Over my test period it consumed just 6.9 litres of diesel per 100 km giving a range of over 800km between refuels.
Both the ride and handling of the new S-MAX never fail to impress. Whether on wet or dry roads the car remains surefooted and feels quite agile considering its relative size. Should you meet the unexpected slippy patch Ford offer ESP as standard.
The latest S-Max is really good to drive and does handle more like a saloon than an ungainly MPV. On twisty roads it is actually enjoyable to hustle along proving very driver responsive.
The suspension set-up gives a very comfortable ride while noise levels are all very well suppressed making this a very refined vehicle.
Accommodation is very impressive too. My version was the 7 seater. Leg and headroom in the front two rows is very good but the last two seats are really for kids only.
I particularly like the way the last row can be left in place and yet the load area cover goes over them concealing your bags in the back.
The S-Max 2.0 TDCI Titanium with "Powershift" costs €44,015 The styling and the availability of some great colours make it look great, build quality is superb, the interior is just about perfect, roomy, practical and functional and it performs and handles well.
In short had I the need for an MPV I would have no hesitation in choosing the Ford S-MAX above any other MPV on the market! It really does offer something for everyone, keeping driver and passengers happy.